Masters worlds courtesy of the red, white and blue

Louisville prepares to host the first cyclocross world championship outside Europe

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Some of the best masters cyclocross racers from eleven countries head to Louisville, Kentucky’s Eva Bandman Park as the UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championships start Thursday.

The 2012 masters worlds marks the first time in history that a cyclocross world championship will take place outside of Europe.

18 rainbow jerseys will be awarded this weekend. And if the American-heavy start lists are any indication, a lot of those jerseys will be staying stateside.

Eva Bandman Park has a permanent cyclocross course overlooking the Ohio River and downtown Louisville. The course was built in anticipation on the 2013 UCI Cyclocross World Championships, and has already been used for two Exergy Energy US Grand Prix of Cyclocross races. But masters worlds is the first time the course has been used for a race in January.

“It’s our first muddy race,” event director Joan Hanscom said after Thursday’s seeding heats to determine call-ups in larger fields.

“The weather was truly epic today,” Hanscom said after a morning of rain and snow showers turned the course’s short climbs and drops into a two-minute muddy run.

Hanscom said over 500 racers are registered, with walk-up registration still open, making 2012 worlds already the best-attended masters world championships ever.

“International turnout is not terribly heavy,” Hanscom said. “But we’re not surprised. These are masters racers for whom this is an expensive trip.”

Hanscom insisted that low international turnout at masters worlds has no bearing whatsoever on turnout next year at the elite cyclocross world championships. “Apples to oranges,” he said.

Masters worlds gives the organizers and the UCI a very good opportunity to work out the kinks before next year.

“This is a really good chance for the UCI to get their eyeballs on the course from an operational standpoint and also from a technical standpoint,” Hanscom said.

Next year, the masters world championships will be run the three days before the elite cyclocross world championships, giving the masters a chance to race their championship, then stay for the elites.

The good news for Americans at this year’s masters worlds is, of course, that many of them have a good shot at a world title.

“I’ve been excited about this race ever since they announced it,” Pete Webber (Boulder Cycle Sport), a 40-44 title favorite, said. “Who can’t be excited?”

Here is a rundown of some of the categories:

Men 30-34, Friday

Dylan McNicholas (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld) won the 30-34 race at nationals, but cannot race worlds because he holds UCI points. Runner-up Matt Pacocha (BikeRadar) is on the start list. Pacocha is a perennial force in the 30-34 age group, but said in Madison that he’s less than happy with his current form.

Pacocha will have to deal with 2009 world champion and 2010 runner-up Sven Van Eyndt from Belgium, who is on the start list.

Men 35-39, Saturday

Last week’s silver and bronze medalists Christopher Case (Feedback Sports) and Scott Frederick (Inland-Back to Dirt) charged late in Madison to almost catch new champion Brian Wilickoski (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld). Wilichowski isn’t racing worlds, saying in Madison he could only race one or the other. But expect Case and Fredrick to pick up the slack for the U.S..

2010 Spanish masters 30-39 champion Marco Antonio Prieto is registered to race in Louisville.

Men 40-44, Saturday

Boulder Cycle Sport teammates Pete Webber and Brandon Dwight have dominated the Masters divisions at Nationals for years. Webber, a former professional mountain biker, won in 2009 and 2010. Dwight won the 35-39 race twice, and won the 40-44 race last weekend in Madison, riding away from Adam Myerson (Smart Stop-Mock Orange) with his teammate.

Weber and Dwight traveled to Europe last year and raced the masters world championships in Mol, Belgium, with Webber taking fourth and Dwight placing sixth. But with none of the rest of the top-five on the start list, one of these men has a very good shot at the rainbow jersey.

“I guaranteed you one of us will be in the rainbows if everything goes right,” Webber promised in Madison.

Former elite U.S. champion Mark McCormack (Clif Bar-Pactimo) is also registered.

Men 45-49, Saturday

Former elite U.S. National Champion Don Myrah was twelfth last year at worlds. But he’s fresh off of winning this year’s 45-49 national championship by almost a minute over Jon Cariveau (who isn’t racing worlds).

Myrah will have his work cut out for him, as Belgium’s Erik Teck who rode to second-place at last year’s worlds is on the start list. Teck is a four-time masters world champion and has ridden to podium finishes year after year in cyclocross masters worlds.

Men 50-54, Saturday

After racking up another title in Madison, American cyclocross legend Steve Tilford heads into the worlds 50-54 race as a favorite.

It’s difficult for the average American cyclocross fan to imagine Steve Tilford ever being beaten by someone his age, but it happened at last year’s masters worlds. Tilford placed third after at last year’s masters worlds in Belgium, after starting in the last row and fighting through traffic.

“I think I’d normally beat them anyway, so I really wish they were here,” Tilford said. “I’m planning on winning, but you know how that goes … my form seems to be there, but you never know until it’s over. That’s why they run the race.”

We’ll hold back on declaring you the winner until afterward, Steve.

Kevin Hines (Corner Cycle Cycling Club) was very close to Tilford in Madison, finishing 11 seconds back. The two will have a chance for a rematch on Sunday.

Men 55-59, Sunday

25-time national champion Paul Curly (Mid-State Cycling Club) won another one in Madison, but isn’t on the start list for Louisville.

Ned Overend (Specialized), however, is. The mountain bike world champion won handily when he raced the 2010 55+ masters national championships in Bend and stands a very good chance of padding his extensive palmares in Louisville.

Norman Kreiss, silver medalist at the last two national championships, is also confirmed.

Women 35-39, Saturday

Sally Annis won in Madison, but can’t race worlds because she holds UCI points. Nicole Borem (Bob’s Red Mill) and Kristal Boni (Rapid Racing) might get a chance to repeat their close battle in Madison that Boni won for silver.

But the Americans will have their work cut out for them with Canadian Olympian (and Tim Johnson’s wife) Lyne Bessette (Independent Fabrications) there.

Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport) also comes to Louisville after riding to fifth at nationals.

Women 40-44, Sunday

Kimberly Flynn (Scenic City Velo), Katrina Dowidchuk (TBB-Deep Blue), and Margell Abel (Tough Girl Cycling) went two, three, four at nationals and stand a very good chance of winning the 40-44 world title. But they’ll have to get through Amélie Vantomme of France who rode to tenth place, 1:36 behind the winner at last year’s worlds.

Women 50-54, Sunday

Defending 50-54 world champion Marilyn Ruseckas from the United States isn’t on the start list. But last year’s runner-up, Lucia Pizzolotto, is registered. Pizzolotto is a two-time Italian national road champion.

Kris Walker (Contender) and Catherine Walberg (Kenda-Gear Grinder) rode minutes ahead of the rest of the field for first and second last weekend in Madison. Both are registered for Louisville.

The winners of the seeding heats today were:

Men 40- 44 Heat 1: Pete Webber (USA)
Men 40-44 Heat 2: Brandon Dwight (USA)
Men 45-49 Heat 1: Donald Myrah
Men 45-49 Heat 2: Erik Teck (Belgium)
Men 50- 54 Heat 1: Kevin Hines (USA)
Men 50-54 Heat 2: Stephen Tilford (USA

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